New Flight Center Plans Announced

The Bentonville municipal airport's new flight center will include amenities designed to engage the public as well as the aviation community, according to airport and city officials.

The two-story building will house Summit Aviation, the airport's fixed-base operator, and include a restaurant, exhibit hangar, meeting rooms and a retail space. The center will be built on the airport's northwest corner, just south of Lake Bentonville. Summit Aviation operates on the airport's east side. 

The 70-by-80-foot exhibit hangar will have three or four planes on display at a time and will rotate aircraft periodically "so it's always fresh," said Chad Cox, with Runway NWA, a civic and social organization in Bentonville working on the center.

"A lot of aviation museums are sort of static," Cox said. "If you go there once, you've seen it."

The Arkansas Air and Military Museum at Drake Field in Fayetteville is going to launch a capital campaign in the fall to raise money to expand its exhibit space as well as provide rotating exhibits, according to Rick Bailey, museum president and member of the Fayetteville airport advisory board. It's been six to eight years since anything new has been done with the exhibits inside, he said. The museum board is working with the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots, to create an exhibit representing women in aviation, Bailey said. He said he hopes the museum plays a role in getting more visitors to the airport but also understands more people would likely return if exhibits were added or changed. About 12,000 to 15,000 people visit the museum annually.

Bentonville's exhibit hangar will be on the flight center's west side. Large windows will allow those traveling on Southwest I Street, either by vehicle on the road or as a pedestrian or cyclist on the trail, to see the planes inside. The restaurant, a Ropeswing Hospitality Group project, will provide offerings for families, Cox said. There will be indoor and outdoor seating, most of which will be outdoor on the airfield side on the ground level. It's name will be Louise, in honor of Louise McPhetridge Thaden, an accomplished female aviator in the 1920s and 1930s. She was a Bentonville native. The municipal airport also is named after her.

The Springdale Municipal Airport has had a restaurant for at least 20 years, according to James Smith, airport facilities manager. "It makes the community aware that there's an airport," he said. "Any publicity you can get for an airport is great." Bill Adams, has operated the restaurant for the last three to four years. He recently remodeled and changed the name from Flaps Down Grill to Woodie's Landing, which opened in the last four to six weeks, Smith said. "Pilots will fly in, have lunch and fly out," Smith said, adding members of the general public patronize the restaurant, as well.

The Bentonville flight center will have two conference rooms on the second floor for rent by anyone and can be catered by the restaurant, Cox said. "You're going to have an awesome view of the lake and runway," he said of the conference rooms. Plans for the center show 87 parking spaces between the building and Southwest I Street. It also shows a wood deck overlook on the building's north side between it and Lake Bentonville. A concrete kayak launch in also in the plans. "It's going to encourage both general aviation and pedestrian and citizen involvement because of its uniqueness," said Bill Burckart, airport advisory board member and City Council alderman. The board's vision for seven years has included making the airport more inviting to the public, Burckart said. A lot of moving pieces between local, state and federal governments and the private sector have come together to get to this point of the airport's plan, Burckart said.

The center is part of the plan, which was adopted by the City Council and the Federal Aviation Administration last year. A turf runway has been built just west of the asphalt runway as outlined in the plan. The plan also includes construction of a circular apron just south of the flight center as well as a parallel taxiway on the airport's west side, which will open up more hangar development opportunities, officials have said. "We're busting at the seams," Cox said of the hangar space, which houses more than 80 aircraft. "There's no room for additional aircraft to be hangared inside." The center is going to serve the airport's strong pilot base rather than trying to build one, Cox said.

NW News on 03/21/2017